Victims of Crime Research Digest No. 3

Victim Services in Canada: Results from the Victim Services Survey 2007/2008

By Julie Sauvé, Analyst, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada


In the last 30 years, there has been increasing recognition of the rights and needs of victims in the area of justice. At the international level, the United Nations adopted theDeclaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Powerin 1985. In 1988, it was the Canadian government’s turn to draft its ownCanadian Statement of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime.[1]Following this, legislation recognizing victims’ rights was passed by the provinces (Boudreau, Poupart and Leroux 2009). Since then, the need for victims to be heard and to be informed, to express themselves and to be protected, and as a result to obtain support and assistance, has been recognized.

The Victim Services Survey (VSS), which is funded by the Policy Centre for Victim Issues of the Department of Justice Canada, collects data for a 12-month period on agencies that provide services to both primary and secondary victims of crime. It also provides a snapshot of the clients served on a given day. This article presents a profile of services offered to victims in Canada, based on the results of the third cycle of the VSS.[2]It also includes an analysis of victims who sought assistance during the 2007/2008 reference period and of victims served on May 28, 2008.


The survey was developed in 2002 in consultation with federal, provincial and territorial ministries responsible for justice and victim services, and with a number of victim services providers from across Canada. The objectives of the survey are to provide a profile of victim services providers, information on the types of services offered, and an overview of the clients who use them through a snapshot of clients served on May 28, 2008. In addition, the survey collects standardized information from criminal injuries compensation and other financial benefit programs regarding applications for compensation and awards to victims of crime.

Victim services are defined as agencies that provide direct services to primary or secondary victims of crime and that are funded in whole or in part by a ministry responsible for justice matters. The survey covered system-based, police-based, court-based and community-based agencies, sexual assault centres, criminal injuries compensation programs, and other financial benefit programs.


In 2008, a questionnaire for the VSS was sent to 556 agencies, covering 939 locations offering services to victims. To be included in the sample, each provider had to offer services or programs to victims of crime. Among the 939 victim services providers, 884 were considered eligible to be included in the sample. In total, responses were received from 771 victim services  providers, of which 5 are criminal injuries compensation programs or financial benefit programs for victims of crime.

Of the 766 victim services providers[3]reporting data for the period from April 1, 2007, to March 31, 2008, a large proportion were police-based (40%). These were followed by community-based agencies (23%), sexual assault centres (17%), court-based agencies (8%), system-based agencies (6%), and the Ontario Victim Crisis Assistance and Referral Service (5%).

Victim Services Providers

Four out of 10 victim service providers offer specialized programs to victims

Canada’s population is characterized by its diversity. Victims can be distinguished by their age, sex, culture, language, or sexual orientation, or by a physical or mental disability. To take this diversity into account, 42% of victim services agencies have developed and implemented specialized programs or services for victims to address their particular needs.

Thus, 32%of service providers had specific programs for children and youth, 28% offered specialized programs for adult victims, both women and men, and the same proportion (28%) had programs geared toward Aboriginal people. Elderly people and people with mental or physical disabilities also received services through specialized programs made available by 20% of victim service providers.

Victim services providers offer services specific to the needs of victims of sexual abuse and younger victims

Victim service providers offer a wide range of services to help their clients, who are a diverse group with regard to both the type of victimization they have suffered and the specific services they need. More specifically, 329 out of 766 victim services providers indicated that they offered services to victims of specific types of crimes. Of those, three-quarters offered specific services to meet the needs of family members of children who had been victims of sexual abuse. Regardless of the victim’s sex, 71% offered specific services to adult victims of sexual assault, and 70% were able to help child and adolescent victims of sexual abuse, assault, or exploitation.

General information and emotional support are the services most frequently offered

Victims’ needs vary with their particular situation, the quality of their support network, their vulnerability, and their relationship with the aggressor (Boudreau et al. 2009). People who turn to victim services agencies for help most often indicate a need for information and support (Alberta Solicitor General and Public Security 2009; Prairie Research Associates 2005; Wemmers and Canuto 2002).

Victim services agencies in Canada offer a wide range of services, whether directly or by referral to other agencies. They offer services that are directly related to criminal justice as well as services of a more general nature. It is the latter type of service that is more often provided to victim services clients.

In 2007/2008, the types of assistance most often provided directly by victim services agencies were general information (95%), emotional support (93%), liaison with other agencies on behalf of clients (91%), information on criminal justice system structure and process (91%), public awareness and prevention (90%), as well as immediate safety planning (87%). In terms of referral to other services, 87% of service providers referred victims to other agencies, for example, for long-term housing or child protection services (86%).

In the case of justice-related services, 90% of victim services providers directly offered information on the criminal justice system structure and process, and 86% provided court accompaniment services. While the majority of justice-related services were provided directly by service providers, some were offered through referral, for example, legal information (61%) and restorative justice orientation and information (58%).

A significant proportion of victim services providers can help victims in a language other than English or French

Service providers must adapt to Canada’s cultural diversity. According to census data, in 2006, 13% of Canadians belonged to a visible minority group, and 8% of people belonging to a visible minority group could speak neither English nor French (Perreault, 2008). In 2006, people whose mother tongue was neither English nor French made up 20% of the Canadian population, up from the 2001 Census (Statistics Canada, 2007).Although not all agencies could offer their services in a language other than English or French, 79% of victim services providers were able to help clients who could speak neither of the official languages through informal interpreters (family member, friend, or caregiver of the victim) or volunteer interpreters.

There were over 3,200 paid employees working in victim services agencies in Canada in 2007/2008

In total, 739 victim service agencies (96%) indicated that the equivalent of more than 3,200 paid employees[4] had worked from April 1, 2007 to March 31, 2008, in victim services. During that period, three-quarters of agencies received the services of nearly 8,700 volunteers.

The capacity to offer services to victims of crime requires training on the part of both paid and volunteer workers. However, requirements for volunteers are less stringent. While 70% of agencies indicated that the minimum level of education required for employees was a university degree or a college diploma, only 8% of agencies indicated that they required this level of education for volunteers.

Eighty-three percent of respondents indicated that they expected their employees to continue their training by participating in workshops, seminars, and professional skills training directly related to the delivery of victim services, whereas 76% of respondents had the same expectations for the volunteers. Eight out of 10 agencies also reported offering some type of training to their employees, and a little more than 7 out 10 agencies reported offering training to the volunteers.

Victims Served

Almost 406,000 victims were assisted by victim services providers from April 1, 2007, to March 31, 2008

In 2008, 686 victim services providers indicated they had assisted close to 406,000 victims[5] of crime from April 1, 2007, to March 31, 2008. According to the respondents providing this information, the number of women receiving assistance from a victim services provider was three times higher than the number of men. More specifically, slightly more than 181,000 women were helped by a victim services provider, compared with 55,000 men. However, the sex of the victim was unknown for a significant proportion of victims (42%).

The majority of victims who received assistance from a victim services provider on May 28, 2008, were victims of violent crimes

On May 28, 2008, the survey snapshot day, 9,808 victims received formal assistance from a victim services office.[6] Of these victims, a large proportion received help in regard to a violent crime[7] such as a sexual assault (21%) or another type of violent crime (40 %) such as an assault. Data from the 2004 General Social Survey on Victimization show that 9% of victims of violent crimes turned to formal service agencies for assistance, while a slightly larger percentage of victims of sexual assault (13%) turned to these agencies for assistance (Gannon and Mihorean 2005).

Another 16% of victims who obtained assistance from a service provider did so because they had been the victim of another type of incident, such as a property crime, a traffic violation, anotherCriminal Codeoffence or another incident.[8] Victim services providers also assisted people who were indirectly victimized through a suicide, a drowning, or another undetermined type of criminal incident.

Among the primary or secondary victims who were served on May 28, 2008, and whose gender is known, three-quarters were female. In addition, 36% were from 18 to 34 years of age, and another 36% were from the ages of 35 to 64. Slightly more than one third of male victims were from 35 to 64 years of age. 

Among the women who sought assistance, almost half (46%)[9] did so because of a violent crime committed by their spouse, ex-spouse, or intimate partner. Thirty-seven percent were victims of a violent crime (other than a sexual assault) at the hands of their spouse, 6% had been sexually assaulted, and 3% were victims of criminal harassment. With regard to men who were victims of violent crimes (58%), the victimization involved mostly violent crimes other than sexual assaults, the perpetrator usually being someone other than a member of the family.

Criminal Injuries Compensation Programs and Other Financial Benefit Programs for Victims of Crime

Three-quarters of requests submitted to compensation programs and other financial benefit programs are approved

Data from the VSS show that, during the 2007/2008 fiscal year, nine provinces offered criminal injuries compensation programs for victims of crime.[10] The objective of the compensation programs[11] is to ease the financial burden placed on victims and their families as a result of a crime (Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime 2009). Each program is established under the respective province’s legislative authority and is administered either by the department responsible for victim matters or by a compensation board.

While there are differences in eligibility criteria among the provinces, the programs are generally open to victims of criminal offences (usually violent crimes), to family members or dependants of deceased victims, and to persons who were injured or killed while trying to assist a police officer or while preventing or attempting to prevent a crime (Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime 2009).

In addition to the 5 programs offering only compensation services to victims of crime, 65 of the victim services offices providing a wide range of services also offered compensation or other financial benefit programs for victims. In total, these offices reported 16,448 adjudicated or completed applications in 2007/2008, as well as 10,894 applications carried forward to the next year. Of the total number of applications that were adjudicated, 75% were approved and 14% rejected. For the remainder of the applications (11%), other outcomes were indicated, such as decision pending or application withdrawn or dropped by the applicant.

Moreover, 45 participating agencies[12] reported having awarded a total of $131 million in compensation to victims of crime in 2007/2008.[13] The highest proportion of this amount was awarded for pain and suffering (19%), followed by loss of support to dependents (17%), and medical, rehabilitation, dental, or eyewear costs (13%). The remaining compensation amount (42%) was awarded for other reasons, such as child care, counselling services, and funeral and burial costs.

Approved applications for compensation involve primarily crimes against the person

From April 1, 2007, to March 31, 2008, over 10,000 applications were approved by 55 compensation programs and other financial benefit programs for victims of crime.[14] Of this total, 36% were submitted by female victims, and 21%, by male victims.[15]

Slightly more than three-quarters of women who received assistance from a compensation program requested services in relation to an assault (43%) or a sexual assault (34%). While 45% of applications related to assaults were submitted by women from 35 to 64 years of age,[16] 49% of applications concerning sexual assaults were submitted by female victims younger than 18.[17]

Men turned to compensation programs more often for assault (35%) and assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm (30%). Another 13% of all male applicants were victims of sexual assault, and 67% of them were younger than 18.v